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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

5 Tips to Say it with Food

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

Hands holding a smartphone taking a picture of a salad

How does it feel when you create a dish or an entire meal that is not only delicious but is a feast for the eyes? Are you motivated to share your masterpiece with others?

It is said that we eat with our eyes first. To share that recipe with others requires more than the directions to make it. It requires a great food photo.

Food photos are essential

Think about it... When you are looking for a new recipe to try, what catches your attention first – the directions, or the photo of the finished product? Research shows that photos are a key determinant for trying a new recipe. Unlike the cookbooks of yesteryear, today’s cookbooks generally include a photo of each and every recipe.

Food photos are so much more than just photos of recipes or restaurant meals… food provides nutrition so what better way is there to communicate nutrition than with food!?

A food photo is a powerful communication tool. It captures an audience’s attention, informs the audience about a food’s characteristics, inspires recipe creation, and invites consumption.

This tip series shares five concepts from Chapter 26 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide, which is all about food styling and photography and was co-authored by Trinh Le, MS, RDN, and Lynn Dugan, MPH, RD.

5 Tips for great food photos

Tip #1: Photos of food are expected

When communicating about food, audiences expect and demand more than text alone. Whether the communication describes a specific food, a food group, ingredients for a recipe, or a finished product, a photograph is included to help tell the story and enhance the message. Food photos provide detail and context that words alone cannot convey. Take a picture.

Tip #2: Photos of food serve a purpose

Before taking a food photo, determine your objective. Is it to illustrate a food’s appearance or physical characteristics? Is it to show ingredients or demonstrate a food preparation task? Is it to showcase a finished creation? Is it to provide information about how to serve, garnish, or accompany a dish, or what is considered a sensible serving size? Know the “why” for a photo.

Tip #3: Photos of food tell a story

The setting of a photo, props used, lighting and camera angles, and use of hand models and action all contribute to the mood and the story it tells. Is the food part of a celebration, a family meal or a snack? Is it food for one, a couple, or a crowd? Is it fun or formal? An effective photo keeps the focus on the food and the props play a supportive role. Create a compelling story.

Tip #4: Photos begin with food styling

Before the first photo is taken, careful planning and preparation are needed. Test and retest all recipes, purchase and assemble food and props, prepare adequate quantities for multiple shots, and use professional food styling tips and tricks to achieve the desired appearance. Quality photos appear realistic yet aspirational. Convey a message of “I can make that.”

Tip #5: Photo skills improve with practice

Equipment needed for taking great food photos is no longer only in the hands of professionals. Smartphone cameras take excellent photos of food. Adequate lighting is essential and can come from natural or artificial sources. Use poster board for a simple reflector. Experiment with different camera angles and be creative. Above all - practice, practice, practice! Say it with food.

How would you describe your food photography skills – novice, intermediate, or expert? No matter where your nutrition communication skills are today, there’s always room to grow!

Download your free tip sheets.

Learn more about the award-winning book, Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide.

“Of all our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.” ~ Walt Disney

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